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26 December 2001

Too Much Walking?

I've changed my short daily route from the train station to my apartment in Uguisudani. Now I take narrower alleys. As a result I pass by four or five prostitutes each night, instead of just one or two. Typically, I tip my hat at them, they gesture quizzically with their chin, I tighten my lips and I keep walking. Or they recognize me and maybe smile or maybe just continue smoking or talking into their mobile phone.

Last night I come upon a bent over old woman in a padded brown overcoat berating a young Japanese man. I could overhear - "it's only over there, only over there." she insisted as she waved one hand and grabbed his arm with the other. "Are they Japanese?" he asked, leaning in her gestured direction. "Yes, yes," she agreed and they headed off.

Tonight I passed by her myself. She was short, her head ending where my ribs start. Some lipstick and rouge made her look younger than I thought last night - maybe she's only in her 60s. She looked up at me as I was walking, "Wakaranai?" ("Do you not understand?") I nodded and kept walking.

Somehow I like walking by them. I like to see who is new and who is always there. There's one old lady; when she first saw me, she made a gesture of stroking her pinky on one hand with the other hand. Since then she mostly looks at me briefly, as though to give me a chance to take her up on her original offer, but not to expend the energy involved in another solicitation. Looking at her pokmarked face makes me a little sad. She looks old enough to be a grandmother. She dresses conservatively, in brown pantsuits like an assistant kindergarden teacher with too much lipstick. I guess it's okay for her to give me some sexual release in exchange for money?

It's a strange commerce - human sexuality. I'm curious about it - how much does it cost, what do you get, what words are said, what is the feeling between the people. I wonder, would they like me? Would I like them? Are they clean? What would they taste like? Would they smile?

Still this curiousity has not come close to winning me over. I'm too poor and paranoid to want to even start conversation with these ladies. I imagine a financial-sexual transaction and I foresee my ability to control the circumstances quickly diminishing as muscled hustling intermediaries and scheming sex partners confuse my sense of fair play and good pleasure.

Still every once in a while I see one that is terrifically attractive, at least in that pregnant moment between when I tip my hat and when I round the corner. I suppose prostitution wouldn't be such a persistent business if clients weren't somewhat happily and painlessly serviced. Each night here I'm walking what I imagine to be a protestant's gait - surveying the filth, so to speak, but not touching it. I feel a little bad about that, like I should at least strike up conversations with these ladies; normally I talk to people I see every day. They would inevitably tell me something about modern Asia and about the state of human longing. I'm not sure how the lurking mamas and pimps would like that.

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